Despite being female, I am a fan of Robert Heinlein’s early books. And Heinlein, in at least two of his stories, mentioned Rodger Young. If you will recall, the main character of Starship Troopers was Johnny Rico, and he served aboard the troop ship Rodger Young. When the troopers were due to be picked up, the ship would broadcast music from “The Ballad of Rodger Young”, and the troopers would head for home. And in his short story “The Long Watch” which is in The Green Hills of Earth , as the young protagonist is dying, he remembers others who have gone before him, including Rodger Young.
So anyway, today as I was re-reading “The Long Watch” for the gazillionth time, I was reminded again of Rodger Young, and I wanted to know more about him, and if possible I wanted to hear that song that is mentioned in Starship Troopers . So here, in case you’re interested, is a brief biography of Rodger Young:
He was born in Ohio in 1918. He was very small but very active and determined. In spite of being only 5'2", he managed to get onto his high school basketball team, though, as you can imagine, he seldom actually got to play. However, one unfortunate day, the coach let him into the game and he was fouled. He fell and hit his head so hard that he was unconscious for several hours. In this day and age, they would have done x-rays or MRIs or something of the sort; however, this was the 1930s so they just sent him home. Whether they could have fixed the problem, even today, I don’t know. But from that day forward, his sight and hearing got progressively worse – so bad in fact that he couldn’t see and hear well enough to finish high school. He got a job.
When World War II started, his hearing and sight were so bad that he probably couldn’t have gotten into the Army; however, he got in by the backdoor. He had joined the National Guard back before the war started, and when his unit was called up, he went with them. Despite his diminutive size and physical limitations, he did well enough that he was actually promoted to staff sergeant. However, once they reached the South Pacific and were preparing to be sent to New Georgia in the Solomon Islands, Rodger began to realize that his hearing had deteriorated to the point that he might be a liability to the men under him. He went to his commanding officer and asked to be reduced in rank to private. At first, his commander took this for cowardice, but once his ears were checked, he was offered the chance to go to the rear, which he refused. He maintained that he wanted to stay with his unit, but he was determined that his deafness should not get any of his friends killed. So he was reduced in rank and placed under the command of his best friend. (Remember, this was a National Guard unit, and these men had known one another for years.)
One day his unit was on patrol in the New Georgian jungle, when they were ambushed and pinned down by a nest of Japanese snipers with a machine gun]. Two members of the 20-man unit were killed immediately. Two more were killed when they made an attempt to break out of the ambush. Night was coming on, and chances were that all of them would be dead before morning. So Rodger Young decided to take out the machine gun himself. There was no cover other than tall grass. He began to crawl forward. His best friend and unit commander, saw him move forward and grabbed him by the foot, telling him to come back that what he was doing was suicidal. Rodger kicked his foot free and continued forward. His friend yelled, "Come back Private Young....THAT'S an ORDER!" Young turned and looked back and said, I'm sorry sir." Then he smiled again. "You know sir, I don't hear very well."
Perhaps the Japanese couldn’t see him, but they could see the movement in the grass as he crawled forward. He was shot once in the left shoulder. This shot left his arm useless and broke the stock of his rifle, so he left it behind and continued forward. He was hit again, a glancing strike that ran down his left leg. He continued on. When he was close enough, he armed one of his grenades, stood up, and threw it into the Japanese pillbox. He was hit again and killed even as he threw the grenade, but his friends were all saved.
He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. His family asked that his rank of staff sergeant also be returned to him posthumously, but the army refused, which was just as well as it turned out. Later that year, the army commissioned a song writer to write a song which would honor the ordinary foot soldier. To get ideas, they told him to read the recommendations for Medal of Honor winners, but he was only to consider those of privates. This song was not meant to recognize an NCO or officer. He was inspired by the story of Rodger Young and wrote a ballad in his honor.
If you would like to read a longer biography of Rodger Young, you may find one at: http://www.homeofheroes.com/profiles/profiles_young.html
If you would like to hear The Ballad of Rodger Young, you may hear it sung by West Point students at: